As most of us in Washington returned to work on January 2, 2013, we noticed that many of our fellow Washingtonians were bleary-eyed and slow-moving. Unfortunately, their lethargy stemmed not from all night and day new year’s electro-funk raves, but from hours of C-SPAN, watching the country go over the fiscal cliff, then climb back up the cliff, and then just hang out somewhere in the middle. Washingtonians barely had time to recover before the next big news hit- CIS will begin accepting provisional waiver in March and here are the rules! AND- OBAMA’S IMMIGRATION REFORM PUSH TO BEGIN THIS MONTH! (said the Huffington Post) Whiplash!
So, the emerging consensus in Washington now is that immigration reform, oddly enough, is the next matter on the nation’s legislative agenda and has the potential to bring the country together after the divisive election and fiscal cliff fights. As someone who has spent over a decade fighting the immigration wars, the idea that immigrati0n reform may be a bonding force in the country’s polity is unthinkable. But really, why is that? Immigration is the one thing that nearly all of us have in common- we all came from somewhere else. All of us came here or had ancestors who came here not to be part of some or some nationalistic entity, but for a chance to be part of “a nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (Yes, that is Lincoln and, yes, it is the Gettysburg Address). If anything should bring us together, it is our common heritage as humans attracted to the promise of America. Anyway, that is how it should be, even if it is not.
We think that the bruising fight over the fiscal cliff has pointed a way forward that can be helpful on immigration. You may recall that the Senate easily passed the fiscal cliff bill 89-8, but the House of Representatives passed it in a much closer 257-167. Although that is a comfortable 45 votes, the bill attracted the support of 85 Republicans while failing to get the other 151 Republicans. Thus, the bill needed 172 votes from the minority Democrats to pass. The combination of these 85 Republicans and the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus has established a new center that can break the grip of the anti-immigrant portion of the Republican party which has held up immigration reform for too long. The willingness of the Speaker of the House to pass a major piece of legislation over the objection of the majority of his party shows that the Tea Party faction has slipped into irrelevancy. As the 151 Republicans who voted against the fiscal cliff legislation are many of the same members who would never support any reasonable immigration bill, going around them is essential.
Last month, we wrote about the incoming Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Trey Gowdy, and we noted that the anti-immigrant lobby was panicking that the new Chairman, a confirmed anti-immigrant extremist, would not get much of an opportunity to sculpt immigration legislation and that the Speaker would go around him. If the results of the battle over the fiscal cliff have shown us anything is that there is a clear route around the Tea Party to get things done in Washington.